Illustration: Andrea Ucini


Frog Calls

By Rob Jackson

It takes a spell to admit it,

this pleasure in their resonant calls.

One night to break the ice I tell a friend,

“We just passed a peeper,”

casually, so as not to startle her.

She looks quickly over her shoulder.

“Should we call the police?”

Frogs are calendars.

The chorus frogs start first, on warm winter evenings,

their call like running your thumb down a comb.

Next come the cricket frogs, rappers that herald the start of spring,

the sharp click of two pebbles striking.

The green tree frog’s oinky boink boink

comes weeks later and lasts through summer nights.

Their calls mark seasons as clearly as the coming

of Christmas lights.

Their presence in films can be distracting.

In O Brother, Where Art Thou?

the leopard frog that hops out of Pete’s empty clothes

doesn’t croak or sound like a hand rubbing a balloon,

the way it should. It ribbits like a Hollywood tree frog

found thousands of miles away. This is not interesting

to most people.

Rainy nights become a problem.

A Quebec woman was jailed three months

after braking for ducklings,

killing a father and daughter motorcycling behind her.

How will I explain it,

this driving like a Buddhist,

weaving erratically to miss the squat packages

languishing in my headlights?

But one night you and I are driving,

open to the warm, vernal air.

We pass an invisible pond,

a unique community of song

proclaiming its inviolate presence,

like time or love or God,

and for a moment life is a miracle. •

Rob Jackson is chair of Stanford’s earth system science department and a senior fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy.